Austin Nature and Science Center in Zilker Park is one of our favorite free spots to roam and explore the great outdoors. My boys and I spent the morning there yesterday being Eco-Dectectives, scouring the trails for birds, lizards and other wildlife.
The Nature Center has six free areas, and all are worth visiting. After following the winding path up from the parking lot, your first stop will be the Visitor Pavilion. Here, kids can explore educational exhibits, including a mini Central Texas cave.
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The Naturalist Workshop offers the opportunity to touch rocks and shells, measure and weigh bones, and examine specimens through a microscope. I love this sign.
If you visit at a time when the Trade Counter is open, be sure to have your kids bring along something to trade! They can bring up to five items that they found in nature. After finding something outside that interests them (clean bones, snake sheds, rocks and minerals, plant parts, etc.), kids should learn all they can about the nature items they would like to trade. The more they know, the more points they will earn towards their trade! The Trade Counter is open Wednesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturday, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Before leaving the Visitor Pavilion, ask at the front desk to rent Eco-Detective Kits. These kits are free to borrow and contain binoculars, a microscope, a ruler, a compass, and a magnifying glass. All in a handy kid-size fanny pack.
Then, your little Eco-Detectives are ready to go! Check out Small Wonders (lizards, snakes and more), Mammal Exhibits (a bobcat, a coyote, a red fox and more), Birds of Prey (a hawk, an owl, a roadrunner) and walk the Eco-Detective Trail.
Next, meander over to the Dino Pit, where kids can try their hand at Paleontology. Fossils of of dinosaurs, mammoths and marine reptiles are hiding under the sand, just waiting to be discovered. All casts in the Dino Pit are replicas of those found in the Texas Memorial Museum at the University of Texas.